Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
Cocaine—in a schoolboy's chewing gum—turned Doc Turner's thoughts from a vain dream of the long-dead past to the imperative, squalid present. And he learned that though Time is ruthless with the young, it can sometimes be exceedingly kind to the aged...
THERE was nostalgic, dreamy tenderness in Andrew Turner's low voice. "Her name was Madeleine Carstairs, Jack. I called her Mab." Even seated as he was before the time-darkened, roll-top desk in his prescription room, the old druggist's slight form seemed bowed under the weight of his long years.
"Mab," Jack Ransom repeated softly. Dingy light tangled in the white luster of Doc Turner's hair, inked the wrinkles of his weary countenance with lines of deep shadow, sifted down to fall on the yellow, faded photograph in his gnarled fingers. Jack, barrel-bodied, carrot-topped and powerful, peered at a pictured drugstore-front, shaded by tall trees. Before it stood a young man—anachronistic in the high, stiff collar and tight black trousers of the nineties. "She looked like that." The Andrew Turner of long ago was looking down at a girl whose delicate grace her shoe-length skirt and puff-sleeved shirtwaist could not conceal. From out of the dim past, an ineffable sweetness in the elfin face tugged at the youth's heart strings.
"She was like that," the old druggist said softly. "Fairy-like. Not quite real. I always felt that if I touched her, she would vanish..." Doc broke off, shrugged wearily. "But there are 'El' pillars out front now, instead of these elms, Jack. Morris Street is a bedraggled, rubbish-strewn slum thoroughfare—and I am an old man. Old and useless..."
"Not useless!" the other protested, straightening from his lounge against the prescription counter. "There isn't a person around here who wouldn't go to the mat with you on that. Helpless in their poverty, bewildered by the strange ways of a strange land, they've come to you with their troubles for forty years—and for forty years you've wet-nursed them. You've fought killers and crooks away from them till Morris Street has a deadline around it the Underworld don't dare cross."
"If it weren't for your help, my boy, and for Abe's..." The old man's fond gaze wandered from the freckle-faced youth poised above him to a Semitic-featured, swart urchin busy at the sink. "...I shouldn't have been able to..."
Glass-crash splintered into his sentence. Fragments of a large graduate flashed light as they showered over the sink-edge, clattered on the floor. Abe's shabby form quivered and his dark face was strangely convulsed, as he stared at the destruction he had wrought.
Doc Turner's tones were slightly—only slightly—rebuking: "That's the second one since you came from school, Abie. Those things are expensive, and I can't afford to buy them every day. I wish you'd be more careful..."
"Meester Toiner!" the urchin squealed, whipping around with a sudden, appalling ferocity. "Don't holler at me like that! What you think I am, hah? What you think?" He half-crouched, livid with a strange fury, quivering.
"I'll be damned!" Ransom grunted. "You little..."
"Wait, Jack." Turner was on his feet, was pushing past the younger man. "Abie! Son! What ails you?"
"Keep avay from me," the boy snarled, an eerie, inexplicable frenzy, making of him something bestial. "Keep avay." And then, with an abrupt, lightning-like flash of motion, he had snatched up a keen-edged knife from the drainboard, was hurling himself at the approaching oldster, an inhuman scream shrilling ahead of him.
The steel flashed in a slicing arc to Turner's breast. Ransom's fist obliterated the lad's face, momentarily, as Jack sprang past Doc to meet the attack. The small form flung back from the meaty thud of that blow, pounded down on the floor. The knife spanged, point first, into the thick wood of the prescription counter, remained upright, shivering. A metallic twang whined through the shocked air, died away, and a brittle silence brooded in the small room...
JACK RANSOM was rigid, his big hands still fisted, above Abe's limp, unconscious sprawl. His eyes slitted dangerously; his mouth was a straight, grim gash across gray pallor.
"He would have killed you, Doc," he said through gritted teeth. "The brat would have killed you if I hadn't..." A constriction of his throat choked him off as full realization struck him. Abe adored Doc Turner, would have cheerfully cut out his own heart, if the kindly old druggist had asked it—What unearthly madness...?
"Look at this, Jack." Turner was on his knees alongside the flaccid, pitiful figure, his fingers, oddly, at the little fellow's eye. "Look!"
Some strange quality in the old man's voice silenced Ransom, set a pulse pumping in his wrists. He bent forward to see what it was that had stirred Doc, and a queasy chill crawled under his skin as he saw that the druggist had pushed up one of Abe's drooped eyelids, as he saw the glazed white of the rolled-up eyeball.
"What...?" the red-haired youth muttered. "What do you mean?"
"Don't you see it? Look!" Half of the iris showed under the crinkled red membrane of the lid. "Don't you see that the pupil is shrunk to the size of a pinhead?"
The youth understood. "Dope!" he exclaimed. "The kid's hopped up to a fare-you-well. Good Lord! They tried to get at you that way, Doc. Somebody you put behind bars doped the kid and egged him on to kill you!"
The aged pharmacist let the lid drop again. "No," he said slowly. "There wasn't anything deliberate about what happened. Nothing like that could have been planned. You were here. He smashed the graduate by accident. It was an accident that I spoke sharply and that the knife was where he could grab it. All accident. But it isn't by accident that he's full of the drug. And he's not the only one."
"Not the only one? What do you mean?"
"I mean that there have been a dozen youngsters in here in the last week who have been jittery, excited by some artificial stimulation. My wits have been wool-gathering or I would have noticed it long ago. But it only flashed on me when I saw Abe's pupils—as he leaped at me. Jack! Someone, somehow, is feeding the schoolchildren around here cocaine. The schoolchildren!"
The last words were almost whispered, but there was something in that whisper, something in the dim blue of Doc's old eyes, which sent icy prickles scampering Ransom's spine. He had seen that look many times before, bleak and glacial—and each time a man had died, one of the slathering wolves who prey on the friendless and the helpless poor.
The youth's big hand tightened on the counter edge as Doc straightened. "Making hopheads of little kids!" he groaned. "It's unbelievable..." He checked as a thought came to him. "Maybe you're wrong, Doc. Maybe—After all, you've got plenty of the stuff here. Maybe Abe got at it."
The pharmacist shook his head. "I don't think he could have. But I'll make sure." His hand was trembling a bit as he fished a key out of the pocket of his threadbare alpaca jacket. "Meantime, you search him."
RANSOM knelt to obey. Turner unlocked a small cabinet fastened over his torsion scale, withdrew a tiny bottle from it. The white powder he poured on a weighing paper glistened with a sinister sheen. The palsy left his old fingers, and they were rock-steady as his tweezers dropped minuscule platinum weights—like silver flakes—on the balancing pan of the scale; as he manipulated a long rod for the final, meticulous adjustment.
"Fifty-six grains," he announced at last, "to the dot. And here's the narcotic record. One grain—two—two and a half—four! Right! Every one of the four grains missing from this dram bottle is accounted for, Jack. He didn't take it from here. What did you find?"
"Nothing." Ransom rose, spilled his findings on the counter, the usual conglomerate contents of a small boy's pockets. A grubby handkerchief. Some coins. A huge bunch of rusted keys. Four marbles. Three sticks of chewing gum, wrapped in virulent green. Seven beer-bottle caps. "Nothing at all."
"I hoped you'd dig up some clue..." Doc paused, poked at one of the gum slices. "Hmmm!" he breathed. "That's queer. Ever see this stuff before?"
Jack peered at it. "'HAPPY GUM'," he read. "'The Chew You Can't Be Without.' No. But they're always coming along with something new. What...?"
"Read the next lines," Turner commanded softly.
They were in very small type, and Ransom had to look closer.
"'If you like this sample you will soon be able to buy it from our agents at'—Good Lord!—'ten cents a slice!'"
"Ten cents!" The old druggist purred it, but his eyes were deadly. "A dime. Many dimes. A fortune to those kids—but they'll beg, borrow or steal to get it. They'll kill, because the craving will be in their blood, hammering in their brains and closing on their throats. They'll..."
"Are you sure, Doc?" Jack grunted, his clenched fingernails digging into his palms. "Sure?"
"I can make sure in a minute. Watch." The old man's hands fairly flew as he tore a stick of gum from its wrapper, broke it into small pieces which he mashed with hot water in a mortar. He strained off the liquid into a graduate. Into another glass cylinder he dropped a single black crystal, added more water, stirred. The crystal vanished; the liquid took on color—a deep, clear purple. Then he had mixed the contents of the two graduates together.
"Watch!" For an instant, the mixture retained the violet transparency of the potassium permanganate solution. Then it grew turbid. A fine sediment silted down to the bottom of the glass, a muddy, lavender precipitate. "There's no doubt now, Jack. That's the test for cocaine."
Little lights smouldered behind Ransom's slitted eyelids, and a muscle twitched at the point of one high cheekbone. "We have run up against some pretty rotten tricks around here," he murmured. "But this beats 'em all. Someone's giving the youngsters these things, getting them used to the habit. Then they'll start selling them, first the gum, then the straight snow, and..."
"And God save them, because no one else will be able to. We've got to stop it, son."
"When the agents show up...?"
"It will be too late. We've got to start now, with whoever is handing out these samples of perdition."
"Abe! The brat knows who... but he's out. I hit him damned hard..."
TURNER'S lips were a white, grim line under the nicotine-stained bushiness of his mustache. "It's cruel to wake him this way, but I've got to." He grabbed up a bottle, twisted out its cork, spilled some of the yellowish liquid on a wad of absorbent cotton he had snatched from a drawer. The sharp pungency of aromatic spirits of ammonia stung Jack's nostrils, and the old man was down once more beside the unconscious errand-boy, shoving the moist cotton against the prominence of Abe's nose.
The youngster writhed, moaned, shoved mechanically at Turner's hand, thrusting it away. He sputtered, choking, and his eyes came open. Dazed pain clouded them; their pupils were still constricted; but instinctively, Ransom was aware that the height of the drug-produced frenzy had passed, its waning hastened by his own jolting blow.
"Ai!" the boy whimpered. "Aiii! I'm so sick...!"
"Abe!" Despite the pity showing in his wrinkled face, Doc's voice was remorseless. "Abe. This gum, this Happy Gum." He displayed a green-wrapped slice. "Where did you get it?"
"Oi," the boy whined again, belching. "Gimme it." Abruptly awake, he grabbed for the evil confection. "Gimme!"
Turner dexterously avoided the eager grab. "Where did you get?" he asked again, inexorable. "Who gave it to you?"
The urchin's brow furrowed. "Gimme it," he squealed once more, struggling to rise. "I got to have it." His hands were claws, tearing at Doc's arm, which held him down with a gentle but firm pressure on his scrawny shoulder.
"Abe!" The druggist thrust the gum into his pocket, stabbed a gnarled finger at the knife, still upright where its point was embedded in the counter. "See that? You don't remember, but you tried to stab me with it a moment ago."
The boy was suddenly rigid, his eyes staring at the ugly weapon. "No!" he moaned. "Ach Gott! No!"
"Damned right, you tried," Jack growled. "If I hadn't sloughed you down, you would done it, too!"
"Oi!" the urchin wailed. "Like mine own fadder, I love Meester Toiner—and he says I vent to kill him...!"
"Not you, Abe. This chewing gum. It made a devil of you. It will do that again, every time you put it into your mouth. You've got to fight that craving. And you've got to help me fight it for the other fellows—for the other boys and the girls who are using it. That's why you've got to tell me where you got it. Where did you get it, Abe? Who gave it to you?"
The lad's face, his body, wrenched, writhed with the searing desire in him. Then the astounding answer splurted from between his blue, twitching lips. "Teacher. She—she gives us it when we know good our lessons. Teacher. Miss Fawley."
"I'll be damned," Ransom ejaculated. "The she-devil...!"
"Jack!" Doc's warning monosyllable cut him off. Then the druggist was addressing Abe once more. "Where can I find your Miss Fawley? Do you know where she lives?"
"No. But maybe she didn't go home yet. The goils like to valk home mit her, and she told them she vould have to stay late to make out report cards. Till five o'clock, maybe."
"It's about four-ten, now, Doc," Jack supplied. "Suppose I go...?"
"No." The old man came up to his feet. "You stay here. Take care of the store and Abe. I'll interview the young lady. What's the room, Abe?"
"Four tventy-two, Meester Toiner. Four tventy-two."
DOC TURNER'S footfalls reverberated hollowly in the long school corridor, and his lungs labored after the four-story climb. No one was in sight, but somehow it seemed to the old man that phantom little figures thronged about him—that pale little faces were upturned, wan little arms outstretched, to him, appealing for rescue from the evil brooding over them.
He searched the dim numbers on the doors, 401, 410, 412. Far down, 422. His old knuckles rapped on the panel.
A lilting, feminine voice called, "Who's there?"
"May I come in?" Doc asked. Did he hear the thud of footsteps—hurrying footsteps, too heavy to be a woman's? He must have been mistaken.
"Come!" The doorknob turned under his hand, and he was in the big schoolroom. Daylight came in through tall windows to illuminate orderly rows of vacant desks, blackboard-lined walls, a larger flat-top desk on a raised dais. No one was visible except the speaker, a petite, svelte silhouette against the light-flood, her features vague and indistinct. Though the old man's own countenance remained masklike, expressionless, a curious doubt gnawed at him. He had expected a shrewd-faced, evil spinstress, a harridan. This lithe, graceful maid... "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Are you Miss Fawley?" Turner temporized, walking across the front of the pupils' desks, going past the platform to get between her and the light. She turned, following him with her eyes. There was a piece of chalk in her hands. Apparently she had been drawing that map on the blackboard for tomorrow's geography lesson.
"Yes, I am Ann Fawley." He could see her face now. It was elfin, ineffably sweet. A sudden fever flared in Andrew Turner's veins. An old agony, an ancient pain, twisted in his brain. A name sprang to his lips, almost gained utterance—a name he had spoken, less than an hour ago, for the first time in forty years.
But this couldn't be Mab. Mab must be a gray-haired old woman now, if she still lived. "What is it please?" the girl repeated, impatiently.
"I am Andrew Turner, the Morris Street druggist. My errand boy, Abe Ginsberg, is in your class." In spite of his perturbation, in spite of the pounding of his old heart against his caging ribs, he must stick to his plan.
"Yes, indeed. A very bright boy. If only he could rid himself of that horrible accent—"
"He tells me you have been handing out to him, and your other children, a certain chewing gum called Happy Gum."
Miss Fawley's eyes widened, catching the sun and turning it into lambent tawny gold. "I—I don't know what you're talking about. Happy Gum? I never heard of it." Her gaze was level, frank. Utterly honest. Her left hand came up to her face, her left forefinger stroked down under the ridge of her jaw. That was an unconscious trick of Madeleine Carstairs, long ago. Unerringly, it had betrayed to him her small fibs, had betrayed the one great lie at which he had flared into a white anger which had lost her to him forever! Too late, he had discovered that she had told it only to save him pain. Too late...
He wrenched himself back to the present. "Have you heard, perhaps," he asked grimly, "the term happy dust?" It was hard, so very hard to keep that even tone, that expressionless face, when all his tortured soul wanted to cry out: "Where is she? Where is my lost Mab?"
As if seeking, in familiar routine, strength to withstand the inquisitor, the girl turned to the blackboard, took up again a curving shoreline of her drawing. "What does it mean?" she asked in a small, muffled voice.
"It's the underworld term for cocaine," Doc struck. "And that's what Happy Gum contains. Cocaine. To rot the souls of the little children who sit out there each day, trusting you. To make of them shrieking, mindless maniacs..."
"Cocaine!" The word sliced thinly from Ann Fawley's lips, but curiously she did not turn. "I thought... he said..." Her chalk chattered spasmodically on the slate, drawing lines that were not part of any map.
"Who said?" Doc barked, jumping up on the platform. "Who gave you that stuff to distribute? Tell me..."
A cork popped behind him, and a black blotch sprang into existence just under the girl's left shoulder blade. She slammed up against the blackboard, skidded down along the wall. She sprawled; and a vivid, scarlet stain spread around that lethal wound.
DOC whirled. The room was starkly empty, the door tightly closed. He had been facing it, would have seen it opening. Some sixth sense filled him with alarm, twisted him around to the open window. Something snouted in through it, the clumsy barrel of a silenced gun. Turner ducked down behind the desk. The scrape of leather against stone told him the killer was moving to get him into view again. Turner's hand darted up to the desk top, gripped a square glass inkwell, hurled it. It clanged on the weapon. Inkwell and gun vanished into sheer vacancy.
The druggist darted across the floor, leaped atop the radiator forming an inner sill. A flicker of movement pulled his gaze to the right, along the outside wall. He was just in time to see a leg vanish into another window. Beneath him, a two-foot wide cornice ledge jutted from the sheer brick precipice. His look slid past it, plumbed a dizzy height, discovered metal-gleam on concrete far below, which must be the gun his throw had torn from the killer's grip.
Behind him, footfalls pounded in the corridor, and a voice called: "Miss Fawley, we're closing up." The doorknob rattled; the door started to open. If he were caught here, the murder-gun found down there in the courtyard—! Doc slid over the sill, and his feet crowded the ledge. He clung by his fingertips, crouching behind the shielding wall, the sidewalk pulling at him, fighting to break that grip, to drag him hurtling down.
"Miss Fawley!" that gruff voice called again. Then it muttered, "Guess she's gone." Was he satisfied? Was he closing that door again? No. Heavy soles clumped across the floor. "Drat these women, always got to straighten out after 'em—Gawd Almighty! Miss Fawley!"
The body was discovered. No chance now to climb in again, to search the dead girl's desk. Doc crawled along that ledge, fighting vertiginous fear of height—which was the only fear the valiant old man had ever known. He was dreary with a sense of failure, with a sense of personal loss that was the worst of all. It was as if he had seen Madeleine Carstairs shot down before his eyes. She was like—so like... but Mab would never have lent herself to the debauchery of little children...
The window through which the murderer had climbed led Doc into another classroom. A small, second door in a corner of this chamber opened on another staircase, evidently placed there for emergencies. That was the way the killer had escaped—the way Doc must go also.
Something made Turner glance around this room before he left it. On its blackboard was a map of Africa, like the one Ann Fawley had been drawing. Apparently the class that met here was of the same grade as hers. That other map hadn't been finished—would never be finished now. There, at the continent's southern tip, she would never draw in the Cape of Good...
Astonished breath hissed between Doc's teeth. There was another difference between the two maps. Those spasmodic markings with which Ann Fawley had finished her life were not meaningless! Far from meaningless...!
THREE blocks east of Morris Street, the river rolls. Once a balmy, sail-studded strait, its sluggish flood is now malodorous with the sewage of a great city, greasy with the black film of oil from the dingy tramp steamers which breast its tide. At night, the fog crawls up from it; billows among decrepit hovels, which long ago were pleasant summer houses; seeps—a creeping, chill miasma—into the rubbish-filled backyards those ancient, lovely gardens have become.
Jack Ransom shrugged lower into the shelter of a tottering fence and shivered. "I didn't know there was any trees left around here," he whispered. "Not that that's much of one."
"Quiet," Doc Turner murmured, invisible in the murk. "If we're heard, it will be just too bad." Silence enveloped the oddly mismatched couple once more—a silence somehow deeper against the far-off growl of the unsleeping city. A distant ferryboat hooted mournfully. The voiceless dark brooded, but under its cover, Doc's eyes clung to the skeleton of a leafless elm. Gauntly black against starless sky-glow, its branches were eerie, writhing arms, its trunk a distorted S from some mishap of its long-ago sapling-hood.
Did the old circular seat—the white-haired druggist wondered—still remain about that dead bole's base? He couldn't see. The tree's lower half was blotted out against the black bulk of a low building. No light showed from the structure, not the slightest glimmer. It was utterly silent. Yet some strange quality of life adhered to it, some ominous sense that within it, humans moved, breathed... Fingers dug fiercely into his arm, Jack Ransom's fingers.
"You were right," the youth breathed. "Listen!"
That slow thud-thud wasn't the throb of his heart in his ears. It was the wall-muffled pulse of a machine, pounding with a covert rhythm which could not have been heard another twenty feet away. Thud. Thud. Thud.
The past was gone. Andrew Turner lifted his old head, sniffed the faint odor of wintergreen oil in the fetid air. "Yes, I think I'm right. But I've got to be sure, dead sure. I'm going in to find out."
"Come on," the younger man said. "Let's get going."
"You're staying here. Double danger with two, and I know every inch inside."
"But nothing. Obey orders." Doc didn't wait for more. Bent low, he was gliding toward the house, his feet following a familiar path. Familiar! How long was it since he last had trod it? How long?
Here was the back porch. Two steps. Here the door. It was the night of the Van Raal's cotillion that he had discovered that by pressing—just here on the jamb—the lock would free itself. That had saved Mab a scolding from stern parents. By Joe, it worked! It worked!
He was inside. Musty blackness shrouded him, the dank breath of a mouldering house. But the thudding sound was louder now. It beat against his feet. It came from underneath, from the basement. Doc dredged the deepest chasm of his memory. Yes. A door to the right. Often, when the old man's gout was very bad, he had gone down there for a cobwebbed bottle of Oporto's best. The old man! A soundless chuckle twitched in Andrew Turner's throat as he remembered his youthful respect...
THE chug of a mixer kneading a doughy mass came up ladderlike stairs, out of yellow light at the bottom of a wood-sided well. A man's voice, muttering. If one trod only at the very sides of the steps, they would not make any sound. There was a gun in Doc's hand as he went down.
Chug! Chug! Chug! He could see the metal pestles now, chugging into a gray, pasty mass. Huge shadows flitted across a flagstoned floor. "That snow don't look just right," the man said. "If Foster's put anything over on us..."
"Get on with that wrapping!" These tones were heavy, guttural with authority. "Whitey'll be along any minute for this batch..."
Time to go. Doc knew all he needed now. The Federal Narcotic Squad... A hand from behind grabbed his gun-wrist, jerking the revolver from it. A harsh sleeve clamped on his windpipe, garroting him. He was lifted in a powerful grip, carried down the stairs.
"Here's a visitor for you guys," Doc's captor grunted. "Kind of shy about interruptin', I guess."
They slewed around: a hatchet-faced, gimlet-eyed youth, from a long table brilliant with a clutter of green paper; another, on whose raw-boned countenance time had laid a grislier film of evil, from a balance piled with sinister powder.
"Whitey!" the latter exclaimed. "Where did you get him?"
"Sittin' on the stairs, listenin' in." Doc was immobile in the irresistible grip. He knew that any attempt to struggle would result only in tightening the pressure of that arm on his throat. "Strikes me you're gettin' kinda careless, Layton."
"Hell! The windows an' both the doors are locked tight. He must have come in through the walls."
"Dad!" The younger man's mouth lolled open. "Know who this is? It's the old guy I aimed at when I shot Ann."
"Too bad you missed him, Hen. But you'll get your chance now. Get my gun."
"Take his'n," Whitey suggested. "There on the floor. Use gloves, shove the barrel right against his head. Then we can leave him somewheres along the riverfront, an' it'll look like suicide."
A sinister grin twitched Layton's lips. "Swell, Whitey. Nothing like experience to give one ideas. Hen, did you hear that?"
The youth's head jerked spasmodically towards an inner door. "What about—her? She'll hear."
"Not if you plant the muzzle right on his skin. There won't be much noise then, and what there is, she won't hear over the mixing machine. Snap to it."
Hen slouched forward, bent to pick up Doc's revolver. The old man's eyes closed. Not that he was afraid to die—he was already living on borrowed time—but to shut out the vision of that mixing machine. It was kneading human lives into that gray pulp, lives of the little Tonys and Beckys and Patricks over whose colics he had conferred with frightened mothers, into whose grubby mouths he had popped many a jellybean from the supply under his cash register. Lives, and their hopes of happiness...
RUSTY hinges creaked. A quavering, thin voice said, "John? Why hasn't Ann come home yet? It's very late. Why hasn't she come home?"
"One squall out of you, and I'll let you have it in the guts," Whitey whispered, and his choking arm was gone. Turner dared to open his eyes. That inner door was open now, and within its frame, a bent old woman stood, her withered hand trembling on the sash, her hair a silver aureole. Layton and Hen were turning to her, no gun in evidence. But something hard screwed into Doc's spine, and he knew his execution was only delayed.
"Don't worry, mother," Layton growled. "I told you Ann sent a message she was going to the theater and a dance. She won't be home for hours."
The aged woman took a halting step forward. "It isn't like her. She never stayed away before..."
"Grandma!" Hen had hold of her arm. "Please go back in your room and go to sleep. Don't you see we have visitors?"
"Visitors!" She lifted her head, peered at Doc and Whitey. For the first time, Turner saw her face clearly...
"Mab!" He couldn't hold it back. "Mab!" Crumpled like old parchment, bleared by age, there was yet that elfin pertness about it, that fairy sweetness. "My dear...!" He would have known it anywhere. In Hell itself!
"Andrew! How wonderful!" She was coming toward him, holding her hands out to him. "The boys told me that a great financier was going to back them. To think that it should be you!"
He went to meet her, oblivious of death behind him, oblivious of everything but that he had found her again. His hands touched hers, clung. "Mab... It's been so long—so long. Why didn't you ever write? Why didn't you ever let me know you were still alive?"
"Can you forgive me, Andy? For years, I couldn't forget how you spoke to me, that night. And then, there were the babies, and Ralph's going, and—terrible, desperate times. I've been half over the world since then, Andy. But I've come back to the old house to die. To the old house, where I can see that seat under the crooked elm, though I am too weak to go out to it. Where I can see it, and tell baby Ann how we used to sit there..."
"Mother," Layton interrupted, desperately. "Some other time, please. We've got business with this gentleman, business that can't wait..."
"Business? Of course. I'll go. This is my son Layton, Andy, and my grandson Henry. Fine boys. They've worked so hard on their new chewing gum, and it's wonderful. Ann, my daughter's little girl, gives it to her pupils, and they love it. Of course, she has to be careful. They don't permit teachers to advertise... I'm sure you'll find it a pleasure to do business with my boys. Goodnight, Andy."
"Goodbye, Mab. Pleasant dreams."
She was gone. Doc Turner came around. "Go ahead," he growled, fighting down a lump in his throat. "Go ahead and shoot. But make sure she doesn't hear."
"Damn right, we'll shoot," Hen grated, lurching toward him. "Here goes..."
"Reach! Reach for the ceiling, the whole bunch of you!"
It was a roar from the stairs. Doc whirled. Men were pouring down; blued automatics snouting; grim-faced men in cocked derbies and black suits—and behind them Jack's grinning, freckled face, his oriflamme of red hair. "Put 'em up before we plug you!"
"Not the old man, fellers," Jack shouted. "That's Doc. That's Doc Turner. That's who tipped you off."
JACK RANSOM'S flivver chugged up Hogbund Place toward Morris Street. "After you'd been gone ten minutes," he explained, "I got leery. I sneaked down the block to where you had the government men wait and told them to come on. But we did make it in time."
"Just in time, Jack," Doc answered happily. "But I'm glad you waited."
"Why? You must have had a couple of bad minutes..."
"Bad? The happiest, I think of my life—Funny thing, isn't it, that Madeleine should die, peacefully in her bed, while they were handcuffing her son and grandson? Almost as if death waited for our reunion, and then came for her before she could know how it came about."
"Probably the shock of seeing you did it for her. But it saved her a lot—Doc! That teacher, Ann, is going to recover. One of the government men called the hospital and they said she'd be strong enough to be questioned by tomorrow noon... Say. You never told me how you knew where the den was, where they were making the gum."
"She told me, Jack. Little Ann. While her cousin was listening outside the window, she drew a picture on the map of Africa. A picture of an elm with a trunk bent in an S curve and a circular seat around its base."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.